In three weeks, the oldest of my two children turns 18. I thought having a toddler was expensive, but I have learned that having two teenage drivers with one starting college next year is much, much more expensive. As we have been churning through all the decisions that are part of this phase of childhood development, I find myself panicking about finances. And then I talk myself off the panic ledge, and then I get back on it again. In the middle of this loop, I also find myself mentally replaying a scene from West Wing, a favorite show:
In this clip, you hear a dad who has expectations and anxieties in his life. These are anxieties many of us can identify with: how to take care of one’s family, home and the work required to do so. The interesting thing to me is that every one of this character’s concerns are rooted in what Polanyi would identify as a construct of our “market system:”
The case of money showed a very real analogy to that of labor and land. The application of the commodity ﬁction to each of them led to its eﬀective inclusion into the market system, while at the same time grave dangers to society developed.
Identifying that money, labor and land have all had value subjectively applied to them makes sense to me. Indeed, the ups and downs of the value of my own retirement fund and home are examples of how we in society apply value based on a complex web of factors that are both local and global. And, to some extent, we have subjected ourselves to a form of subservience to this system that is laden with social and environmental implications.
THE STORIES WE TELL OURSELVES
Just as Joseph Campbell would claim is true of all the stories we tell ourselves; West Wing has created a story of a hero with a trek ahead of him. The dragon to slay on this journey is purely around concepts society has created, and as the clip demonstrates, even romanticized. When thought of in this light, the journey seems less like an epic tale and more like a rat race. I like how Dr Clark illustrates some of the contradictions in this idealized system:
The market is, if not a false body, then at least a competing body, to which humans have ceded all sociologic, because of its promise of actualising community desire; however, it has never produced a community, but rather fostered an idealisation and unrequited desire for community.
I think that we read a case study that proves Dr Clarks claim that “the market… has never produces a community.” In Duffy’s, Why We’re Wrong About Nearly Everything, we were shown that how we define our financial stability (at least as it pertains to our retirement planning) is rooted in these constructs. In his third chapter Duffy explains that people will gauge their own financial well-being in part, by how it compares to that of others. In short, I will feel comfortable with my own situation as long as it is better than yours. This seems like a clear “keep up with the Jones’” situation that actually prevents us from hoping for the well-being of others (not to mention actually helping each other).
Polanyi’s repeated highlighting that a market-based society has built in a reinforcement of working towards one’s self-interest above all else gives cause for careful consideration. Whether or not we are discussing society’s invention of the concepts of land, money and labor, or if we are thinking about the impacts that these concepts have on our society through the factors such as social class or the negative residual impacts on the environment, this week’s reading is another book on the pile that calls us to put our heads up and pay attention to the impacts of the systems and institutions that we can easily take for granted. I have found myself wondering what would our world be without such constructs. What would we be like?
I enjoy my life. And I am excited to be parenting children who are beginning to draft out the stories of their own lives. But occasionally, I am struck with the question of ‘what if?’ What if whatever forces conspired in history to create this complex global market system did not occur? What would the plotlines of our respective heroes’ journey be if we were not wrestling with the rat race that has become so entrenched in our subconscious that we don’t even see we are in it?
 Just a Little Bit, 2008, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fJRcDHKrSqw.
 The fact that this award-winning TV series then goes on to develop this plot line into a story about how the federal government endeavors to solve all the problems outlined is another story for another blog post.
 Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation the Political and Economic Origins of Our Time, 2nd Beacon Paperback ed. (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2001), 204.
 Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces (Joseph Campbell Foundation, 2020).
 Jason Paul Clark, “Evangelicalism and Capitalism: A Reparative Account and Diagnosis of Pathogeneses in the Relationship,” n.d., 165.
 Bobby Duffy, “Why We’re Wrong about Nearly Everything: A Theory of Human Misunderstanding” (New York, NY: Basic Books, 2019), 84.
 Polanyi, The Great Transformation the Political and Economic Origins of Our Time, 139.
 Radhika Desai, and Kari Polanyi Levitt. _Karl Polanyi and Twenty-First-Century Capitalism_. Geopolitical Economy. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2020. https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=e000xna&AN=2521663&scope=site, 29.